Action Movie Fanatix Review: The 5 Deadly Venoms

The 5 Deadly Venoms banner

Five Sinister Disciples Dealing In Death!

Starring: Chiang Sheng, Sun Chien, Kuo Chui, Lo Mang, Wei Pai, Lu Feng, Ku Feng, Wang Lung-Wei

Martial Arts Instructor: Liang Ting, Tai Chi-Hsien, Chu Lu-Feng

Director: Chang Cheh

1978  |  101 Minutes  |  Rated R

“You’re to finish them for me.” – Master

I’ve been collecting Dragon Dynasty DVDs for a while now but I’m really only just beginning to dig in and watch them.  I’ve also never really made a point of watching Shaw Brothers movies.  I’m sure I’ve seen one or two at some point without realizing who made it but I’ve really been wanting to see what I’ve been missing.  The cover of The 5 Deadly Venoms has always intrigued me so I figured that was as good of a place to start as any.

The 5 Deadly Venoms is actually one of the most influential martial arts movies of all time.  Its effects can be felt across not just future martial arts movies but all across pop culture around the world.  Samples of the dubbed dialogue has been used in numerous hip hop songs.  And that’s just the tip of the ice berg.

The name, The 5 Deadly Venoms, is in relation to the fighting styles of the Poison Clan.  The Poison Clan’s master’s dying wish is for his final pupil to track down and kill all of his past five students, each masters of the five disciplines of the school – snake, centipede, scorpion, lizard and toad.

Those styles play out like so:

Snake – Very fast and able to attack in many directions.  His right hand is like the head of the snake and his left is like the tail.

Centipede – So fast it is as if he has 1,000 limbs to strike with.

Scorpion – Hands move like the cutters of the scorpion and his feet like the stinging tail.

Lizard – Agile, able to climb walls.

Toad – Very strong and nearly invincible, even to blades.

From listening to the commentary on the DVD (something I never do) I found out that these five styles were essentially created just for this movie.  And quite realistically too.

The start of the movie is pretty slow.  Not boring.  Just slow.  It opens with a cool montage explaining these five styles before we follow the pupil on his mission.  It takes a good forty minutes before we see an actual fight, though there is one other scene where two of the venoms use their martial arts to lay waste to a family.

Four of the five venoms are known from the very beginning.  The fifth remains a mystery until the final scene.

The sets and costumes are quite well done.  I understand this is a benchmark of Shaw Brothers releases.  The entirety of The 5 Deadly Venoms was actually shot on the Shaw Brothers lot… no “on location” shooting.

I loved the masks and costumes for the five different venoms.  They were almost like ancient martial arts super heroes.  Very cool.

Of course, the high point of The 5 Deadly Venoms is the martial arts, culminating in a huge five way fight to cap things off.  The choreography is solid and its cool to think that someone actually created these styles.  I will say, though, that the choreography doesn’t come across as smoothly as today’s martial arts movies.  It’s just a completely different style of martial arts and film making.

A bit of a side note but I wanted to point out just how awesome these Dragon Dynasty releases are.  For one thing, they have some sweet artwork on the covers.  I hate when DVDs have ugly cover artwork.  It makes me want to make my own artwork to replace it but I never get around to it.  You can see some bad DVD cover artwork for this movie below (and the good Dragon Dynasty stuff above).  I also got sucked into the commentary track by Bey Logan, an expert on Hong Kong cinema.  I literally never listen to these so for me to get sucked in shows how engaging this one was.

The 5 Deadly Venoms was a good jumping in point for me into the enormous pool of Shaw Brothers martial arts movies.  It’s a fun movie with solid martial arts.  I’m assuming there are better movies and worse in their library so it’s not like I’ve seen the best they have yet.  I look forward to future Shaw Brothers reviews on this site.

Five Deadly Venoms bad dvd cover

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